By Reviewed by C. S. Gilbert
By Julian Sher
Chicago Review Press, 24.95
'Somebody's Daughter: The Hidden Story of America's Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them" by investigative reporter Julian Sher is a hard read. It's not because the language is difficult -- journalists by experience tend to be experts at linguistic precision and clarity. It's not the book's format, which is a friendly narrative even when individual stories -- the girls, local vice cops, FBI agents, survivors who return to the streets as social workers -- intertwine. No, "Somebody's Daughter" is difficult, painful even, because the straightforward language and narrative tone weave vivid, unforgettable tales of the brainwashing and violent sexploitation of children.
The book begins and ends with Maria. And with a handful of concerned and compassionate law-enforcement professionals including FBI agent Dan Garrabrant. In between are scores of exploited children, one as young as 10.
The girls float in an ocean of supporting data.
Twenty to 40 percent of the victims recruited into prostitution are juveniles. The vast majority (70 percent) of prostituted children are runaways, often with ample cause, almost always with a history of prior sexual abuse.
There are also enlightened vice units and "rescue" organizations run by survivors. Key Westers first met Maria and other young teens when author Sher keynoted the "Our Kids Are Not for Sale" rally presented by a new advocacy group, the Keys Coalition, last month. (Full disclosure: I was drafted to serve with the Rev. Gwendolyn Magby as founding co-chair of the group.)
Sher's illustrated lecture on the sexual trafficking of children was riveting. But it did not truly prepare one for the weight of the entire story as it unfolds in black and white on the page. Sher's powerpoint images were easier to absorb than the battering of bold, bald facts and wrenching, often violent stories.
Hard to accept is the reality that pimp culture is adulated in this country. The reality that the sexual trafficking of children is the fastest-growing crime in the nation. The reality that drug pushers are turning to trafficking because drugs once sold are gone while young bodies are a renewable resource. Besides, pimps are rarely prosecuted. Hardest is the reality that, even now, most often it is the victims who are blamed.
Sher ultimately offers hope, however. A vicious pimp is convicted due to the courage of another central character, Felicia, and passionately determined legal and law enforcement professionals.
A number of stories have happy endings.
But others don't.
So "Somebody's Daughter" is a hard read.
One will be sensitized to the signs, the ubiquitous nature of the problem. In The Key West Citizen last week was the headline: "Police find remains of Ohio teenager missing in 1999." The suspect, who "killed himself in 2002 while awaiting sentencing for raping a girl" reportedly "had a link to human trafficking." That chilling fact might have escaped me before. The murdered child was 14.
Yes, "Somebody's Daughter" is a hard read but it's an important one. The book is available at Amazon.com. To be part of the solution, come to the Keys Coalition's first official election meeting and help to map the road to raising consciousness among professionals, the public and potential victims as well: Thursday, March 1, at 7 p.m. at Congregation B'nai Zion, 750 United St.
For details visit www.keyscoalition.com or phone me at 295-9466.